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Spem in alium 
nunquam habui 



A motet 
for 40 voices 



by 



Thomas Tallis 



(c.1505-1585) 



Edited by Philip Legge 



Notes 



Forty-part motets from the sixteenth century are an exceedingly 
rare species. In July 1561 Cardinal Ippolito d'Este was 
ceremonially welcomed to Florence, probably the occasion for 
which the composer and diplomat Alessandro Striggio (senior) 
composed a 40-part motet, Ecce beatam lucent, which was first 
performed beneath the vast cupola of Santa Maria della Fiore, with 
the singers probably arrayed in a semi-circle. Striggio visited 
London on diplomatic business in the summer of 1567, bringing 
with him the Latin motet; Striggio had taken a similarly vast mass 
(also reputed to be in 40 parts, with a 60-voice Agnus Dei; now 
lost) around Europe, but which would have been inappropriate to 
perform in Protestant England. 

It seems very likely that Striggio performed the motet in London, 
and that he and Thomas Tallis met. In 1981 Jerome Roche re- 
discovered a 161 1 account by one Thomas Wateridge, a law 
student at the Temple. According to his account, after hearing the 
40-part motet a nobleman: 

asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe [...] 
Tallice beinge very skilfull was felt to try whether he would undertake ye 
Matter, wch he did and made one of 40 partes wch was songe in the 
longe gallery at Arundell house. 

Arundel House was the London home of Henry Fitzalan, the 12th 
Earl of Arundel. However his country residence, Nonsuch Palace, 
possessed an octagonal banqueting hall, and a catalogue of music 
in the library at Nonsuch, drawn up in 1596, reveals the existence 
of a score of Spent in alium. In addition to its octagonal layout the 
banqueting hall had four first-floor balconies, so that it is possible 
Tallis designed for the music to be sung not only in the round, but 
with four of the eight choirs singing from the balconies. 

No manuscripts of the original Latin motet are known to exist; the 
earliest copies preserved were made in the early 17th Century 
during the reign of James I, when an English contrafactum of the 
motet was performed, firstly for the investiture of Henry, Prince of 
Wales, in 1610; and after his decease, the ceremony and the motet 
were repeated in 1616 for his younger brother, the future King 
Charles I. The text sung was: 

Sing and glorify heaven's high Majesty, 
Author of this blessed harmony; 
Sound divine praises 
With melodious graces; 
This is the day, holy day, happy day, 
For ever give it greeting, 
Love and joy, heart and voice meeting: 
Live Henry [Live Charles} princely and mighty, 
Harry live [Charles live long} in thy creation happy. 

The editors of Tudor Church Music in the 1920s did not have 
access to the earliest source, Egerton MS 3512, but used a later 
manuscript from the Gresham College Library (now in the 
Guildhall Library, G. Mus. 420). A collation of the two 
manuscripts indicate the Gresham MS was copied from the 
Egerton MS. The parts in the MS are not copied in choirs, but first 
all of the sopranos, numbered by the scribe 1, 6, 11, 16, 21, 26, 31, 
36; then the altos, numbered 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, 27, 32, 37; and so on 
for the other voices, suggesting eight identically-formed choirs of 
five voices. The five voices (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass) 
possess similar ranges in each choir and are notated in the G2, C2, 
C3, C4, and F4 clefs. There are several noteworthy additions in the 
MS: on the first page the scribe copied out the original Latin words 
(taken from the Sarum Breviary); after the 20th voice there is an 
unfigured thoroughbass, denoted "for ye Organ"; at the end of the 
33rd voice the scribe wrote "This song was first made to a lattin 
ditty by Mr. Tho: Tallis; but who put in the English ditty I ame 



altogether ignorant off." On the last page was inscribed "Mr. 
Thomas Tallis, Gentleman of King Henry the Eyghts Chapel, King 
Edward, Queen Mary & of her Maiesties that now is, Queen 
Elizabeth, the maker of this Song of fourty parts." which suggests 
the earlier Egerton MS was copied from a manuscript dating to 
Tallis' own lifetime. 

For the text underlay Tudor Church Music used another manuscript 
(Royal Music MS 4 g. I) bearing the Latin text, but as this dates 
from the eighteenth century it probably does not preserve the word 
placement of Tallis' original; the editors themselves noted the 
underlay "is in places so perverse that it appears like an attempt on 
the part of an unknown editor to fit the Latin words to the English 
adaptation." Hence the editor of this new edition has dispensed 
with this text underlay and supplied his own. Text aside, the music 
is a direct transcription of the Tudor Church Music version, which 
as described above used the Gresham MS as a principal source; the 
collation of the two manuscripts indicate the scribe of the Gresham 
MS attempted to add some accidentals according to the rules of 
musica ficta. Though the earliest manuscript has many fewer 
accidentals than this edition, it is not inconceivable that the work 
was indeed sung with many more than are included here. Similarly 
the organ bass line cannot be shown to have originated with Tallis 
or the author of the English adaptation, and may be included or 
omitted in modern-day performances. 

Musically, the motet is a tour deforce on many levels, not least for 
Tallis' masterful exploitation of his choirs' spatial distribution. If 
the choirs are arranged in circular fashion sequentially by number, 
then the music "rotates" through the opening points of imitation on 
Spent in alium nunquam habui (choirs I to IV) and Prceter in te, 
Deus Israel (choirs V to VIII). After a short interjection from 
choirs III and IV (which functions antiphonally as "decani" to the 
"cantoris" of choirs VII and VIII) Tallis completes the circle with 
the entry of the final bass voice of Choir VIII; shortly afterwards, 
at the fourtieth breve of the work, all forty voices enter in the first 
of a series of massive welters of sound, which has been described 
as "polyphonic detailism". The next imitative section which 
follows at qui irasceris et propitius eris reverses the direction of 
rotation as new voices enter against varied countersubjects in the 
parts already established. 

Tallis also manages to combine the exchanges between choirs in 
four different antiphonal arrangements, by amalgamating the 
singers in four groups of two choirs (as hinted at above), so 
antiphony can pass back between both "north" and "south", but 
also between "east" and "west"), but also as two groups of four 
choirs (ie one massive 20-voice choir against another) which can 
be arranged in two different ways (north and west versus east and 
south, or north and east versus south and west). 

After the most intricate chordal passage so disposed between the 
various choirs, Tallis contrives the entire choir of 40 voices to enter 
as one after a pause, "upon a magical change of harmony". With 
the words respice humilitatem nostram Tallis ends with the most 
strikingly unhumble polyphonic passage yet heard, framed by 
strong harmonic rhythms of the ensemble. The view that this might 
be Tallis' opus magnus is intriguingly suggested by Hugh Keyte's 
observation of a possible numerological significance in the work's 
duration being exactly 69 long notes: in the Latin alphabet, 
TALLIS adds up to 69. 

Philip Legge, Melbourne, November 2004 



Copyright © 2004 Philip Legge, for the Choral Public Domain Library: http://www.cpdl.org/ 
Edition may be freely distributed, duplicated, performed, or recorded. 



Please send comments, suggestions, or emendations by electonic mail to philip AT netscape DOT net 



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